Science of Sex: The Women of Sexology

December 30th, 2017

Welcome to the tenth installment in a feature on Of Sex and Love: Science of Sex. In this monthly segment, I discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

I try to update Science of Sex every second Saturday of the month, so check back soon.  This month’s incredibly late Science of Sex post is a departure from previous posts, but it’s one that I hope you will enjoy.

Science of Sex Women of Sexolofy

While the last few months I’ve posted about what is happening in the science of sex, I decided to depart just a bit this month and discuss the who of science and sex. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the women who researched and studied, taught, and fought for our sexuality. I do this not to minimize what efforts of men but to maximize the efforts of women who were all too often overlooked — and sometimes still are. We’ve all heard of Kinsey and Grafenberg and Bancroft and Janssen. Now, I’d like to introduce you to some lesser-known names!

Marie Bonaparte

You’ll more often hear Bonaparte listed as a French princess, which she was, but she was also a psychoanalyst and friend of Freud. After growing tired of her inability to orgasm, Bonaparte took matters into her own hands. It’s to her credit that we have the rule of thumb (albeit, this was unknown to me until earlier this year, so women’s voices still need to be promoted!). After consulting with hundreds of women, Marie suggested that the reason that so many women were anorgasmic wasn’t because of what was in their heads: it was because of what was between their legs.

The rule of thumb states that if the distance between a woman’s clitoris and vaginal opening is more than the length from the tip of thumb to the first knuckle (around 2.5cm), a woman is unlikely to achieve orgasm through intercourse because the clit won’t be stimulated.

Virginia Johnson

You’ve likely heard of Virginia Johnson’s work if you’re interested in sex research, but her name always followers her partner and husband, William Masters. Together, the pair discovered different stages of arousal, that women could achieve multiple orgasms and that flexibility of a vagina when it comes to penetration. Johnson contributed to something great, but it wasn’t perfect. Early research with Masters encouraged conversion of gays, which Johnson didn’t approve.

Johnson seems a complicated woman, and neither her professional and personal relationship with Masters is no less complex. But who knows what we would know without her?

Lisa Diamond

Lisa Diamond examined the fluidity of woman’s sexuality, which she published under the name Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Diamond’s research supports the idea that many women experience a sexual fluidity that may not be properly addressed by existing labels. Lisa Diamond also suggest that a woman’s sexuality has more variables, including menstruation, than a man’s.

April Burns

April Burns surveyed girls and young women to discover their attitudes and behavior toward sex. The result is sometimes frustrating and disappointing (a comparison between oral sex and performing a chore or taking a test was common) but always enlightening (oral sex is one way in which these girls felt empowered in their sexual encounters — perhaps the only way). Burns has also examined the relationship that young women of color have with sex.

Debby Herbenick

It wasn’t until I read Girls and Sex that I realized how many women defined good sex as sex that was simply without pain. I guess I had been fortunate.  This knowledge comes from the results of several studies that Debby Herbernick has contributed to. Of particular note is the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, the most extensive sexual survey of recent years, Herbernick and her team at Indiana University released results in 2009 and 2012 that offered a look into modern bedrooms, just like Kinsey or Johnson had done decades prior.

Katherine Bement Davis

Davis was the superintendent of a woman’s prison and used her network to survey women about topics such as sexual orientation and desire. Although she isn’t often credited for her work and it took the world a while to accept the results, Davis was a proponent of both the idea that homosexuality in women wasn’t pathological and that women had sexual desires much the same as men.

Evelyn Hooker

Evelyn Hooker worked with the gay community to perform psychological evaluations in an attempt to remove the stigma of homosexuality as a mental illness or insanity. In the end, she surveyed two groups of people, one gay and one straight, and produced results that were virtually indistinguishable from one another.

Celia Mosher

Mosher was studying sex well before Kinsey, and it even earned her the moniker of the “sex scholar.” Mosher was responsible for a Victorian sex survey, the earliest of its type. Unfortunately, the results of the survey weren’t published until after her death. The results showed that women were not ready to admit that their sexual desires were nonexistent or abnormal.

Lori Brotto

More recently, Lori Brotto has studied the disconnect that women often experience between mental and physical arousal. Brotto’s research suggests that the way that women multitask and tend to be detached from their bodies contributes to this. Brotto suggests mindfulness as one possible solution. However, Brotto’s research also indicates that in the sexual moment, men and women experience fewer differences in desire than most people believe. Another myth Brotto is helping to dispel is how much testosterone affects a woman’s desire.

Sari van Anders

Van Anders has also looked into the role of testosterone and arousal, finding only an indirect link. She has researched responsive desire in women and the interplay between thoughts and desire. The van Anders lab frequently tackles topics about sex, women, feminism, gender, and diversity, going so far as to research how to perform feminist research.

Marie Stopes

Stopes not only penned the first sex manual in England, but she also opened the country’s first reproductive health clinic in 1921, she used it to gather data about contraception. Her clinic inspired others and eventually led to the Family Planning Association.  The Marie Stopes Foundation still promotes access to contraception around the world and continues research into abortion.

 

Emily Nagoski

Emily Nagoski has done a ton to educate the world about sexual desire, especially as experienced by women, as well as risk and sexual behavior. Hers is the book that introduced me (and many others!) to the dual-control model of sexual desire and is also responsible for me finally coming to understand my body’s stress response cycle. I’ve referenced it countless times since reading it.

Do yourself a favor, boys and girls, and read Come As You Are. Nagoski’s blog, The Dirty Normal, contains helpful entries and comics to further illustrate these concepts.

Beverly Whipple

Finally, we have a name with which many of you may already be familiar. Whipple has orchestrated over 170 studies into sexuality, the best known of which may be on the G-spot. A paper she helped write on the topic in 1981 was the first publication to use the G-spot, which she named in honor of Dr. Gränfenberg, who had earlier studied it. Her studies have also found how food affects the G-spot, “diets heavy in spicy chilies may block the naturally occurring analgesic affect of the G-spot, therefore causing childbirth to be more painful,” women who can think themselves to orgasm and those suffering from persistent genital arousal disorder.

Whipple has received many well-deserved awards and commendations for her work, which covers myriad angles of sexual response.

One of the things that I love about nearly all these women was their attention on women’s sexuality. When men wouldn’t take it seriously, women took up arms to shed light on the subject.

This list is by no means comprehensive. There are those whose work has been overlooked, is still in the process, or are simply unknown to me. I relish the thought of learning about more women researching the field of sexuality, so please leave comments with anyone who should be added to this list!

Further Reading

Several books I’ve read provided me with information for this post, and I’d like to recommend them in addition to the usual articles and studies that I post. They include Bonk by Mary Roach, Girls and Sex. I’d also recommend checking out Masters of Sex; although, I haven’t had a chance to read it.

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Science of Sex: Marijuana and Sexual Activity

November 30th, 2017

Welcome to the sixth installment in a new feature on Of Sex and Love: Science of Sex. In this feature, I plan to discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

I try to update Science of Sex every second Saturday of the month, so check back soon.  This month’s incredibly late Science of Sex post is a departure from previous posts, but it’s one that I hope you will enjoy.

science of sex marijuana

A few studies have compared how substances affect sex drive, performance, and satisfaction. The two most commonly researched substances are alcohol and marijuana, with studies on the latter becoming more common as marijuana continues to be legalized. These studies piqued my interest!

Thus far, studies on cannabis use and sex point to some similarities to alcohol: people generally feel more relaxed and attractive when they mix either substance with sex.

Many people report being more aroused when drunk or stoned, but there’s a surprising difference between men: 50% of women reported being more aroused after smoking pot compared to 39% of men. The reasons may not bee entirely due to a chemical difference, however. Researchers suggested that women were more likely to need a reason to allow themselves to have sex, and marijuana changes the “path” to sex with which women are more concerned than men.

Cannabis use can decrease a man’s plasma testosterone (women see an opposite effect, which might account for the greater increase in desire) with greater effects on more heavy smokers. This is especially true on days after intense use. Thus, marijuana can both increase and decrease desire in men. Sperm counts also drop in these men to below 30 million per ml, which could be an obstacle for people who are trying to conceive.

Regardless of those differences, both men and women who smoke pot are likely to have more sex than those who don’t — about 20% more sex. No conclusions have been drawn, but the combination of increased arousal and decreased inhibition probably helps.

Smoking more marijuana doesn’t necessarily lead to even more desire, however. One joint seems to be the sweet spot. Doubling that still increases desire but only by half as much.

Discover how the dual-control model of sexual desire affects arousal, too.

Interestingly enough, both alcohol and marijuana affect how people choose sexual partners, but someone is more likely to sleep with a friend when stoned and a stranger while drunk. Regrets are increased after drunken sex more than stoned sex, too. Marijuana does lead to increased risky behaviors, such as not using condoms with established partners.

Most people are familiar with the phenomenon known as “whiskey dick,” which occurs when a man who has imbibed alcohol cannot become erect. Some men experience difficulty with erection while high, but not nearly as many.

The influence of marijuana on orgasm is varied:

  • Some people experience more orgasms
  • Some have more intense orgasms
  • Some have fewer orgasms or difficulty orgasming

The mind that marijuana puts someone in can prove too much of a distraction and may come with paranoia or other negative side effects that do not bode well for sex.

The type of sex that people have after smoking tends to be softer and gentler while people who drink have more aggressive sex. The sex is also likely to be slower, and many men report lasting longer after smoking, likely due to the endocannabinoid system.

At least one study finds an increased likelihood of sex during menstruation when marijuana is involved. Mixing cannabis and pregnancy may have unwanted effects. Research suggests that marijuana both reduces conception and successful pregnancies.

Pot might be a moon for desire more often than not, but there are definitely times when you should abstain, and users should beware the increased potential for risky behaviors.

Further Reading

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Fun Factory Laya II

November 29th, 2017

I can’t say that I am the person who was the most excited to find out that Fun Factory made a second version of the Laya II. After all, F, perhaps more than most reviewers. And when that one died, I bought another, which currently seems to be on the fritz (that makes the comparison a bit difficult).

Truth be told, I wasn’t aware that the Laya II was in development, but it’s certainly a needed change. It’s been, what? Well, over a decade? Since the first one, which was underpowered due to relying on 2 AAA batteries. That was the main complaint from others, and I have to concede they have a point. But Fun Factory managed to eke out some moderately rumbly vibrations despite the meager power source.

This time around, Fun Factory has updated the power source to an internal battery This is now charged via Fun Factory’s Click N Charge charger. I assume this comes with a new motor, and it feels different to be sure, but I am not positive.

Along with that comes more modern, bubble buttons that are certainly easy to locate in times of passion than the depressed buttons from the original Laya Spot. The Laya II also comes in a sleek black silhouette, which is sophisticated and appeals to my aesthetic. I never had a color combination of the original Laya Spot that I loved, but some people might miss the option.

While the freshman attempt was covered in Elastomed and ABS plastic, no one was really sure what Elestomed was or how safe it is. I just assumed safe enough. I never had any issues other than my first Laya showing up smelling like ass. After airing out and several washings, the bad smell eventually faded. I would be shocked if Fun Factory produced an updated Laya Spot from anything other than silicone. It has since become the default for most toys, let alone luxury toys. This is noticeable especially at the nose of the toy, where it makes the most contact when I use it, which has more noticeable squish than the Laya Spot. Laya II remains firm beneath the silicone, however.

The silicone makes the Laya II a lint magnet, as you can see from my photos.

Aside from those changes, the Laya II looks pretty similar to the original. It’s got the same general shape, which looks something like a snakehead when you look at it head on or a sneaker from another angle. I am glad for this because it’s the shape of Laya Spot that I always loved. It was rounded enough to press without hurting myself but not so broad that I felt nothing.

The base seems narrower and longer. Truth be told, I am not sure if the Laya II is the same size as the original. It’s hard to measure, and the black certainly makes it seem narrower. But it just might be my eyes playing tricks on me. It looks a little longer in photos, however.

Laya II Laya Spot Comparison

I’m not sure that some of the changes were warranted. For example, the 3-button design works but doesn’t add much. There’s a master power button, the Fun Factory button, and the + and – buttons. I like the feedback of these buttons, which the company has used on other toys, but the FF button on some adds a boost that’s missing with the Laya II. Otherwise, the buttons work exactly as you’d expect with the + button cycling through the 4 steady modes of vibration and the six settings. You’d think the third button could do some of the work.

But that’s not the most frustrating thing about Laya II. The most frustrating thing, by far, is the power output. Now, if I was willing to cut some slack when it was just a battery-operated toy that ran on AAAs, you have to understand how much I wanted to like Laya II. I’m not just not sure it’s any stronger than the original, and it sure as hell is buzzier. With a decade to improve it, you’d think Fun Factory would be able to add a little more oomph. Lelo did it with the second Siri, which is another clitoral vibe.

Fun Factory Laya ++This really isn’t a surprise. I stopped by the toy store to feel the Laya II and noticed it right away. The lower couple settings feel a little more rumbly, but when I turn up the power to feel something — anything — more, I am disappointed. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that there are only four steady settings on Laya II. The original had something like 7 and would occasionally kick out a few more (you had to listen very carefully to ensure it was turned off when you were done with it). You run out of steady vibrations abruptly and disappointingly with the Laya II.

There are six new settings, combinations of pulsation and escalation, that are utterly unsatisfying due to the lackluster motor that’s behind them. I’ve never liked rhythmic vibration more than constant vibes, but I’ve always recognized that you need some oomph behind them to make it worthwhile. Laya II just doesn’t offer that.

There is a single exception, which is one setting that combines pulsation and escalation at a slower pace but somehow draws a little more power from the motor. This, surprisingly, is where I settled with the Laya II.

And I was eventually able to get off, twice, with a healthy helping of lube (in the past, I often used Laya Spot without lube or through my underwear) and more time than I expected that I would require for the Laya II to do it for me. It was moderately frustrating but mostly surprising.

With a toy such as the Laya Spot, which I have loved and relied on for a decade (that’s longer than any relationship I’ve been in!), I’m not looking for surprises. I only wanted upgrades. It’s sad to say that Fun Factory failed on this one, a rating that I rarely hand out for what I’ve long considered my favorite toy company, not surprisingly because they’ve made some of my favorite toys.

But, hey, if you’re not a power hog, love the original shape, have never tried the Laya Spot or simply want to add something different to your collection, maybe Laya II is worth the risk. It’s all I’ve got now, after all, if my Laya Spot continues not to work correctly. )=

For the rest of you, I’d suggest the Siri 2 or perhaps the Tango.

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On one hand, lemons

November 10th, 2017

I don’t know when I first stumbled across Dr Emily Nagoski’s post on Lemonade Sex. I think I began reading her blog after I read her book. I’ve continued to read and references her work since then.

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Emily, she’s an expert on sex whom I greatly respect. Teaching and speaking about sex are her day job and, I suspect, her passion. Among her work is a relationship guide, and her post on lemonade sex starts with the following sentiment:

I spend a chunk of time talking about coping in my relationship guide because it turns out that effectively coping with stress is quite possibly the most important thing you can do to improve your sex life.

I believe you, doc.

Dr. Nagoski goes on to explain how stress can kill one person’s libido or raise another’s. And it wreaks havoc on your relationships. This is where coping comes into play. Coping is all about taking the hand you’ve been dealt and making the most of it or, you know, making lemonade out of sour lemons.

The good doctor recommends having sex with your partner even when you’re too stressed to really want it. It doesn’t need to be amazing but maybe could be. And you don’t do it because you’re expected or you feel obligated to do it for your partner. Lemonade sex isn’t about how sex is good for you. 

Lemonade sex paints having sex like flexing a muscle to keep it strong or maintaining something even though you’re not actively using it. Emily compares it to eating vegetables, something that people rarely like but that they do because it’s good for them — just like lemonade sex.

And the analogy to veggies works for me because eating them isn’t amazing, but the energy is. I’ll periodically ingest something with tomatoes (okay, technically a fruit) or spinach that’s so tasty that I feel legitimately excited over something that’s good for me.

I’ve been there with sex, too. The slumps with my ex-husband were never more than a few weeks and less so related to a lack of desire and more due to a lack of habit. It’s easier to fall out of the habit of something, even sex and even if you’re a pretty sexual person, than we always realize.

So I’d throw my ex a bone, and sometimes he would me. I found that this bone, or lemonade sex, worked in exactly the way that Dr. Emily predicted. Where my body went, my head followed, even though it hadn’t been in the game just a few moments before (she describe this as responsive desire). A similar thing happens when I watch someone I’m in a relationship with masturbate. I think I’m only an audience member but find myself drawn to willing participation in short order.

The concept of lemonade sex is one that’s controversial, and Emily admits this in her blog post. No one is suggesting anything that’s nonconsensual.  It’s important that if you have lemonade sex, you do it for you, because it’s beneficial for yourself, and not your partner. I think that’s the emphasis that Emily is trying to make toward the end of her post.

That’s also what’s stuck with me since I originally read this post. The kneejerk reaction might be to view lemonade sex as something that’s negative and potentially blurs the lines of consent, but I certainly think that it’s useful to consider whether throwing someone else a bone is really throwing yourself a bone in the long run.

Check out Dr. Emily’s post about lemonade sex on the Dirty Normal, and stay for her other insights into sex.

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Stockroom

Made to Beg

November 9th, 2017

Every day, I am to make her cum with my mouth. She expects to wake with her thighs spread and her nether regions being worshiped by my tongue. If the room isn’t awash with the sounds of oral, she will be most displeased.

We repeat this routine in reverse every night, and sometimes she’ll call me on her break at work. I’ll rush to her office, kneel beneath her desk, slip her skirt up her creamy thighs and pull the fabric of her panties to her side. I’ll push her buttons while her fingers grace her keyboard. She sends a memo, answers a call. I kiss the inside of her thighs, nuzzle her clit with my nose and drag my tongue along the inside of her labia.

At home. At work. In the back of a cab. This is what she expects. This is what she allows.

Tonight is no different. She lets me lick her clit. I cannot dance my tongue across her nipples or kiss her neck, but I can delve between her folds and smell her natural aroma. I can grasp her hips and roll her labia between my fingers, but I cannot stroke her hair or face. I bury my face between her legs and bury any wistful thinking about the rest of her body.

But it’s certainly not a bad job. Her taste, as I run the tip of my tongue on either side of her clit, somehow matches her personality. It’s like her soul has become tangible, and I feel more connected to her when I’m tonguing her hole.

I know to start with flat, broad strokes and when to dart my tongue inside her. Her moans are familiar music to my ears, encouraging me to suck her clit and nibble on her lower lips. I recognize the tremor in her thighs — thick from working out more than I would ever do — just before she orgasms, and revel in the pressure on my head when she clamps down, her body tense before the final release.

I breathe in her scent, slow my ministrations and remain silently poised until her legs release their grip on my head. Only then do I come up for air, remembering that I have nearly forgotten to breathe.

To an observer, we might be calling it a night at that point. The pussy worship is done, but the night is still young.

It’s then that my lady turns from a demanding diva — okay, never quite that — into the passionate giver the most people would never suspect.

She gazes deeply into my eyes while penetrating me with her fingers. Like magic, she’s working my G-spot with her thumb on my clit. I can never quite tell what the difference is between someone who is good at this and someone who’s not, but is the best of the best, making me sigh with pleasure and lift my hips closer to her. She’s like a goddess, showing me glimpses of Heaven. She knows how to keep my on that edge longer than should be humanly possible before stroking me to orgasm. My body shudders; waves of ecstasy wash over me.

You might think we would be done, but we’re not.

This woman, this beautiful and capable woman, knows what to do next. She secures her favorite harness around her waist and thighs, carefully chooses a bright silicone dildo for the night’s activities and puts it in place before returning to her place beside me. Lightning quick, her hands are in my hair, tugging and pulling me closer to her. Her tongue invades my mouth as if she owns it. If we’re honest, she really does.

Her kisses are ferocious, the type that take your breath away and leaves your head spinning. But isn’t my head always spinning with her? She’s never been one for long makeout sessions, though. This isn’t the position she wants me in, so she breaks our kiss.

Toned arms flex as she grabs me by the hips and turns my body away from her. On hands and knees, I know exactly what’s coming for me. She coaxes that dildo, slick with lube, between my lips. With one hand wrapped around the base, she rubs it against my clit, which is already swollen with desire. I try to press my body back against her, but her free hand slaps my ass. It’s always her pace, her plot.

I never really mind, of course. I’m moving my hips to grind against the slippery dildo, and my own juices have added to the mess. If I were controlling the pace, I would be fucking myself senseless without a second thought to prolonging orgasm. I’m a greedy slut when it comes down right to it, and she knows my every weakness.

It may feel like forever, but it’s just a few minutes of teasing. She likes seeing me come undone just as much as I love losing myself. She’s the darkness to my light or something cheesy like that. Luckily, I don’t really have long to think about it. Instead, I’m nearly howling when she slams that cock into my pussy. As greedy as I may be, it’s always a shock to have a toy rammed into your cunt without any heads up.

But it’s always a thrill to be filled and stretched, to be taken and to know your value directly corresponds to how well you take it. I always take it like a champ, and she likes that about me. I might worship her pussy, but she respects the lengths I’m willing to go to to please her and how much I respond to negative stimulation.

That’s why she grasps the hair at the back of my head and yanks it back. My scalp tingles and a shiver runs down my spine. She’s fucking me at a steady rhythm now, fast but shallow. My nipples are painfully erect, but she can’t see that from her vantage point. If my hair weren’t in her hand, I would lower my body to sway my breasts against the bed beneath me, but I cannot.

I’m at her whim, so when she picks up her pace and sinks the nails of one hand into my hip for better purchase, all I can do is gasp. It’s not unwanted, though. Any attention she lavishes on me is welcomed. I cannot believe that this woman is with me, marking my body with her own, working so feverishly to bring me to orgasm and so generous with her cunt. I don’t know how I get so lucky.

And I continue to get lucky. Her thrusting isn’t effortless. Sweat causes the backs of my thighs to stick to the front of hers. She pushes her knees further under mine, pulling my hair so that I am nearly upright in her lap. Instead of in-and-out, she moves her hips in circles, blissfully stroking my G-spot.

She’s leaning so hard against my back that I rest my head on the headboard. My cheek squishes against the cool wood. My mouth gapes open awkwardly; a bit of saliva drips out. I don’t care, either way. If I did, I would care even less because she tells me to rub my clit. This is the sign that she wants me to orgasm — and soon.

I reach my hand beneath my legs and work my clit as if my life depends on it. Sometimes that feels true when we’re in the throes of passion. Nothing can be more important than fucking this woman or letting her fuck me. How could it?

I block out the rest of the world, focusing on the way my fingers feel on my clit. I try to match the pace of her cock deep inside me. We find our perfect rhythm. Yin and yang, right?

“Cum.”

Could she sound any more perfect?

And I do. I furiously rub my clit until my muscles are spasming. She listens to my body’s response and pulls the dildo free of my pussy after milking my G-spot to a squirting orgasm. I ejaculate onto her thighs, my legs, the bed beneath me. My body has never felt so much pleasure. I moan, jerk my hips, and throw my head back. I’m not sure I’m even still human. Something, not primal but more natural, takes over. I’m more fully myself and experiencing such clarity that the world seems full of limitless possibilities.

As soon as my orgasm subsides, my muscles go slack. I sag against her body and the bed. I try to calm my ragged breathing, but I’m not quite sure that I’ll ever be able to get enough air. Still, there’s a stupid grin on my face. It never gets old, the way she fucks me, the way my orgasms feel. She sits patiently as we both wait for my heartbeat and breathing to return to normal. She lightly caresses my arms, and I feel grounded.

I smell our sex. My arousal. Hers. By this time, I am practically begging to kneel between her legs. I may be covered in sweat and fighting exhaustion, but still I do her bidding.

It might seem like prison from an outsider’s perspective, but we both know this is my home. It’s where I belong.

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Science of Sex: HIV and AIDS

October 24th, 2017

Welcome to the seventh installment of a feature on Of Sex and Love that I call Science of Sex. In this feature, I discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

I update Science of Sex every second Saturday of the month — except for this one thanks to issues with connection, computers, and inspiration. Better late than never! 

Science of Sex HIV and AIDS

We’ll dive right in. I assume you all know that HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a sexually transmitted infection that compromises the immune system by destroying CD4 T-cells. When it progresses to the most advanced stage, we refer to it as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. In the final stage of HIV, the immune system has become too compromised to fight off HIV or other infections and illnesses (including pulmonary tuberculosis,  and recurrent pneumonia), which will take advantage of this time to infect the person. Treating the virus can put off progression to this final stage.

When HIV and AIDS first came on the scene in 1981, it was a death sentence. Within the first year, around half of the American men who were diagnosed with HIV died. There is much I could say about the cultural impact, especially because HIV/AIDS affected homosexual and bisexual (as well as their female partners), the most. We’re all familiar with the endemic and the ensuing panic that arose after the discovery of HIV.

While the infection remains an epidemic in some areas, including Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the infection originated, our understanding of HIV and AIDS has greatly increased over the last three and a half decades.

For example, promising tests of a new antibody in primates indicate that it is capable of preventing contraction of 99% of HIV strains. Testing on humans should begin next year. This is good news, but getting there was a difficult process for several reasons.

One of the main reasons that tackling HIV is difficult is becaise there are different types and subtypes of HIV. When most people speak of HIV, they mean HIV-1, which is the most common in the United States and the UK, among other locales. 95% of all HIV cases are HIV-1, but HIV-2 remains common in western Africa but has spread to other countries, and it’s even possible to contract a hybrid of the two strains.

Doctors have had the most success treating HIV-1, which is better understood. HIV-2 doesn’t respond to all of the treatments that HIV-1 responds to. It is less likely to develop into AIDS. People with HIV-2 are less likely to be diagnosed or to receive treatment for the virus, however. Originally, most HIV tests looked for HIV-1 antibodies, but modern tests search for signs of both types of HIV.

I’ll focus on HIV-1 from here because that’s what we know the most about and where we’ve made the most progress. HIV-1 presents challenges because there are 4 groups: M, N, O, and P. The majority of people in the M group have subtype B; although, subtypes A, C, D, F, G, H, J, and K exist as well as 89 hybrid viruses or ‘circulating recombinant forms’. Cameroon still has the widest variations of strains. Just like more research is needed into the other groups and the less common subtypes of group B, including CRFs,

There is good news when it comes to treatment, however. Because HIV is a retrovirus, researchers have designed antiretroviral therapies (ART), to treat people with HIV and also sexual assault victims who may have been exposed (official CDC guidelines recommend ART for high-risk victims). The first ART took six years to develop and approve, but there are now six categories:

  1. Entry Inhibitors work by stopping HIV entry into CD4+ cells
  2. Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors, also known as nukes or NRTIs, help to block the reverse transcriptase proteins that HIV needs to multiply
  3. Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors, also known as non-nukes or NNRTIs, work by binding to and disabling the reverse transcriptase proteins that HIV needs to multiply
  4. Integrase Inhibitors block the enzyme that HIV needs to infect CD4+ cells with its genetic material
  5. Protease Inhibitors, also known as PIs, inhibit an enzyme that HIV needs to make copies of itself

When a doctor prescribes a combination of three ARTs from two different categories, it’s known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).

Between 2008 and 2014, new HIV infections dropped 18% in the United States with the biggest drops in drug users and heterosexuals. We lack research into HIV transmission rates for victims of sexual assault and sex workers. The data have is dated (around 1% of sexual assault survivors were tested for HIV in 1998, and half of them tested positive, presumably because they fell into the high-risk group. Furthermore, sex workers are ten times as likely to contract HIV, and approximately 12% of sex workers have the infection.), and change hasn’t been tracked. Hopefully, transmission rates have dropped for those groups as well.

The progress that has been made not only improves quality and length of life but reduces the risk of spreading HIV to new partners. The CDC has recently updated its HIV/AIDS guidelines for the first time since 1990. The updated guidelines finally indicate that the risk of spreading HIV-1 to sexual partners, to fetuses or infants via breastfeeding is virtually none as long as the person with HIV takes a daily HAART treatment. Mixed-status couples can safely try to conceive without worrying about the risk of HIV contraction.

While this has been one of the longer Science of Sex posts, it was one of the most fascinating to research. I knew very little about HIV/AIDS when I began, and encourage you to go through the extensive list of resources below if you want to know more about HIV.

Further Reading

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Stockroom

Science of Sex: Pheromones

September 9th, 2017

Welcome to the ninth installment in a new feature on Of Sex and Love: Science of Sex. In this feature, I plan to discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

Enjoy!

science of sex pheromones

You probably think of pheromones as sex chemicals. Many animals produce pheromones, chemicals that help attract mates among other things. But plants and bacteria also produce pheromones that serve various purposes. These chemicals are emitted through sweat, saliva, and other glands.

Human infants, for example, may detect pheromones that lead them to their mothers’ breasts, which is necessary for nursing. One type of moth releases a pheromone-filled mucus cocktail to attract potential suitors. Pheromones may signal whether another member of the same species is healthy and thus a good potential mate. Queen bees attract drones with pheromones (and unappealing pheromones may even serve as a pest repellant). Nature has plenty of examples of pheromones.

It’s the nose that detects pheromones in animals like humans and mice, but detection of these chemicals is unconscious. You wouldn’t realize when pheromones are at play, and animals certainly don’t.

Scientists believe pheromones in a man’s sweat can attract a woman to a man, even if the idea of smelling someone’s sweat isn’t appealing. Since the 1970s, researchers have found ties between body odor and attraction. You may already be familiar with the experiment in which women were asked to smell t-shirts covered in a man’s sweat and rate attractiveness. More recently, a study has shown that a man’s testosterone may rise when in the presence of pheromones of menstruating women.

Even exposure to pheromones from the same gender can elicit an effect as is the case with women and their menstrual cycles (and sweat from any gender can impact the menstrual cycle when applied near the nose). However, the case for pheromones in humans isn’t a strong one, and no specific chemicals have been extracted to reproduce that effect artificially.

Researchers once thought that the vomeronasal organ (VNO) is the pheromone receptor in animals. But humans have a particularly small VNO — and some have none at all. The genes that turn on the VNO aren’t active in every person, either. The VNO may be only part of the picture, too. One study showed that pigs could still detect pheromones even when the VNO duct was plugged, leading scientists to suggest that more than the VNO is necessary to detect pheromones.

The terminal nerve in the brain has been proposed as a pheromone detection, and hamsters with terminal nerve damage do not reproduce. This all makes it hard to make a solid case for human pheromones.

That doesn’t stop companies from promising you can attract a mate and make them obsessed with you with a little help from pheromones. But it does mean that the chemicals, if any, contained in these products are not human pheromones. They come from other animals, usually pigs, and there isn’t proof that they will work for you, a human person.

Even if researchers could prove that human pheromones exist and identify those chemical compounds, a true human pheromone product may not improve your sex life as much as you’d hope. For starters, you’d still produce your own pheromones. Pheromones also have to battle with all the bath and body products we use on a daily basis, which is one reason why researchers haven’t found a strong connection between pheromones and attraction in humans. Finally, humans have a host of other senses that come into play when it comes to attraction.

There’s enough evidence of pheromones in humans to warrant further investigation, but we cannot make a conclusive case for human pheromones.. yet.

Further Reading

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